Breeders' Cup Ramblings

OK, I've finally figured it out. I have figured out how to deal with this year's and next year's Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita as it relates to Eclipse Awards.

After all, there are several possible scenarios this year that could have a major impact on the various championship categories. For instance, what if either Mast Track or Go Between wins the Classic, or run one-two, as they did in the Hollywood Gold Cup? Let's go one better; what if one of them wins the Pacific Classic, Goodwood, and BC Classic? That, in many cases, would be sufficient to earn Horse of the Year, especially if you also have a win in the Hollywood Gold Cup or seconds in the Hollywood Gold Cup and Santa Anita Handicap, as Go Between does. But that's not going to happen. I just don't see many people voting for a synthetic surface horse for Horse of the Year no matter what they accomplish.

Regardless what these two horses do, or any horses for that matter, Curlin will be the champion older horse. Now, let's say Colonel John wins Saturday's Swaps, and then adds the Goodwood and BC Classic to go along with his win in the Santa Anita Derby. He still has no shot at the 3-year-old title, which will go to Big Brown. He will have to win the Travers and the Classic, with Big Brown losing the remainder of his races, to have a shot at it.

So, does that mean if Big Brown should happen to miss the Classic or simply doesn't handle the synthetic track, this year's Classic will prove to be a meaningless race to everyone except the winning connections and those who bet on him? Sadly, the answer is yes. That is how important Big Brown is to the Classic. How do I know this? If Go Between wins the Classic, and no disrespect to him, can anyone picture Darley, Three Chimneys, and Lane's End shoving each other out of the way trying to purchase his breeding rights?

At this point in racing history, championships should not be decided on a synthetic surface. That brings us to my brilliant idea. Considering the Breeders' Cup's ravenous appetite and how it is gorging itself on new races, and considering the addition of new Eclipse Awards to accommodate the profusion of Breeders' Cup winners, why not add several more championships to give the synthetic specialists their due?

Now, we all know a synthetic surface horse is somewhere between a dirt horse and a turf horse. These are generally second-tier turf horses, not good enough to compete at the highest level, and either second-tier dirt horses or horses who have never even laid eyes on a dirt track. Yes, there are horses like Student Council and Tiago, or the 3-year-old Gayego, who have won major stakes on both dirt and synthetic, but they are in the minority.

So, let's just say Go Between or Mast Track - two typical synthetic/turf horses - run the table the rest of the year. What do you do with them when it comes to year-end honors? Simple, you make up a new Eclipse Award. How's this? Champion Dirf Horse (that's right, something between dirt and turf). This way, they can join the long procession of 2008 Eclipse Award winners without intruding on the major award contenders like Curlin and Big Brown.

OK, so now you ask yourself, what about Colonel John, who has a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby as his only attempt on dirt? He obviously loves synthetic surfaces, but supposedly is not as good on the dirt (although I'm still not sold on that) and has never been on the turf. So, you can't give him the Dirf Award. In his case, as with others who are proven only on synthetic surfaces, we offer the Latex Award. This way, we can honor horses like Colonel John, who supposedly love only the feel of balloon fragments under their feet. But there is still the Travers to expand his horizons, and the belief here is that he handles the dirt just fine, despite the Kentucky Derby, in which he actually put in a big move around the turn.

With these awards, every horse will get his or her due, and it would allow the Breeders' Cup Classic to have at least some championship implications. And as for having a legitimate Horse of the Year showdown, Churchill Downs could then boost the purse of the Clark Handicap if they so desire. And what about the top-class milers who flop in the BC Dirt (?) Mile? They can flock to Aqueduct four weeks later for the Cigar Mile to determine who really is the best miler in the country.

Now that we've resolved that disturbing aspect of the Breeders' Cup, I have one more issue that needs to be discussed. What does John Shirreffs and Jerry and Ann Moss do about Zenyatta? They already have Tiago for the Classic, and he is capable on any given day of winning a race of that caliber. Shirreffs has already stated that running against the colts is not in the equation. But let's say Zenyatta continues her unbeaten streak, goes back to blowing away her foes, and looks invincible heading into the Breeders' Cup.

Do you run her against colts in what is likely to be a so-so field (depth-wise) in the Classic in front of a sellout crowd and highlight the best filly in the country to TV audiences around the country or do you run her on Friday in the Distaff (sorry, for blog purposes I cannot bring myself to say Ladies Classic) in front of one-third or one-half the crowd and a negligible TV audience? How many people are going to take off from work that day to come to the track or rush home to watch the races on TV?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against change, and these new changes this year could turn out just fine. I hope they do. But everything is being done so quickly and in such excess. Can't we at least wait to see how last year's changes work out on a nice sunny day as opposed to last year's disaster before smothering everyone with additional races? Here is a test the Breeders' Cup can conduct. Put five committee members in separate rooms and give them five seconds to name the winners of last year's Friday Breeders' Cup races. If they can't do it, you keep the number of Friday races the same until they can. Then, and only then, can you add more races. Better still, you can also give them an additional five seconds and have them name the new races this year. If they can't do it, scrap them until they can.

The reason I can't bring myself to say or write Ladies Classic, besides it sounding like a golf tournament, is that you already have a Classic that is open to males and females, and horses are not ladies, they are horses. Distaff designates female as much as Ladies, so why change after 24 years? What is with this new obsession to keep changing names until its political correctness makes us want to barf? Webster defines "distaff" simply as a "female," and it defines "lady" as a "woman." So, the Breeders' Cup in its divine wisdom determined that they'd rather have a race for women than females.

If Tiago and Zenyatta win both races, Shirreffs and the Mosses will be victorious in the Classic and Ladies Classic. Sort of takes away from the power of the name Classic doesn't it? "Oh, you only won the Classic? Well," I won the Ladies Classic (and with a horse no less) -- twice as many words, must be more important. At least I know what kind of Classic I won. What kind of Classic did you win?" Come on, Breeders' Cup, it's the Distaff, period. Stop thinking so much and leave the darn name alone. If it was good enough for Personal Ensign and Lady's Secret it's good enough now.

I will go into this year's Breeders' Cup with an open mind -- hey, we do have a bunch of turf races. If all the horses come back safely I will be happy, and that will take precedence over the results, the surface, the silly name changes, and the plethora of races, even if many of them do turn out to be meaningless in the grand scheme of things. But after the relief of knowing that all the horses and jockeys have returned sound and healthy, all the other stuff mentioned above will begin to sink in. That's the part I'm not looking forward to.

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